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The Galeries Saint-Hubert, the so called 'umbrella of Brussels', has been delighting flâneurs since 1847 | © Marcel Vanhulst/Courtesy of visitbrussels.be
The Galeries Saint-Hubert, the so called 'umbrella of Brussels', has been delighting flâneurs since 1847 | © Marcel Vanhulst/Courtesy of visitbrussels.be
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An Architecture Lover’s Guide To Brussels

Picture of Nana Van De Poel
Updated: 30 August 2016
Where to even begin exploring all the architectural treasures Brussels holds? Taking a walk around town, it becomes clear that the capital of Art Nouveau has a lot more than just Victor Horta mansions to boast. Here is an introduction to Brussels’ architectural highlights, divided up into five styles.

Art Nouveau:

Victor Horta’s Major Town Houses

So many Horta gems, so little time. The European capital is dotted with buildings from Belgium’s own architecture revolutionary and Art Nouveau’s leading light, Victor Horta. In case of limited time, the four town houses selected by UNESCO to be on their World Heritage List are a good place to start. Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Atelier Horta are all revolutionary in their use of industrial materials like steel and glass, wrought iron features, meticulous wood paneling, and sunbathed living spaces.

Hôtel Tassel, Rue Paul Emile Janson 6, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Hôtel Solvay, Avenue Louise 224, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

Hôtel van Eetvelde, Avenue Palmerston 4, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Atelier Horta, Rue Américaine 25, 1060 Brussels, Belgium

A most elegant staircase at Victor Horta's Hotel Tassel | © Henry Townsend/Wikimedia Commons
A most elegant staircase at Victor Horta’s Hotel Tassel | © Henry Townsend / Wikimedia Commons

Maison Saint-Cyr by Gustave Strauven

It was Gustave Strauven – mentored by Horta and assistant to the creation of Hôtel van Eetvelde – who took over the Art Nouveau baton from the modernist pioneer. His splashy Maison Saint-Cyr on Ambiorix Square reveals an unequaled commitment to wrought iron embellishments and an overall flamboyant aesthetic.

Maison Saint-Cyr, Square Ambiorix 11, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Maison Saint-Cyr with its extravagant gate and balconies is Gustave Strauven's pièce de résistance | © visitbrussels.be
Maison Saint-Cyr with its extravagant gate and balconies is considered Gustave Strauven’s pièce de résistance | © visitbrussels.be

Maison Cauchie by Paul Cauchie

Saved by the grace of two Art Nouveau-loving owners, the former home of artist couple Paul and Caroline Cauchie is now open to the public every first weekend of the month. Most striking, however, is its façade, embellished by Paul Cauchie in the sgraffito wall paintings for which he would become known. One of the golden murals bears the words ‘Par nous, pour nous,’ or ‘By us, for us,’ indicating the duo’s loving decoration of their own living space.

Maison Cauchie, Rue des Francs 5, 1040 Brussels, Belgium

The Art Nouveau sgraffiti on La Maison Cauchie, artist Paul Cauchie's specialty to be found on facades all over Brussels | © Jon Worth/Flickr
The Art Nouveau sgraffiti on La Maison Cauchie, artist Paul Cauchie’s specialty to be found all over Brussels if you look closely | © Jon Worth/Flickr

MIM by Paul Saintenoy

The Musical Instruments Museum atop the Mont des Arts is one of the greatest examples of modernism in Brussels, yet it wasn’t designed by Horta like many tourists mistakingly assume. This particular beauty is from the hand of Paul Saintenoy, who originally designed it to house the Old England department store, as the name engravings still indicate. The façade is defined by a plethora of glass, finished with wrought iron rails of plant motifs and a unique cast-iron turret.

MIM, Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Paul Saintenoy's Art Nouveau masterpiece provides an exceptional setting for a collection of more than 1,200 instruments | © Roberto Cacho Toca/Flickr
Paul Saintenoy’s Art Nouveau masterpiece provides an exceptional setting for a collection of more than 1,200 instruments | © Roberto Cacho Toca/Flickr

Art Deco:

Flagey by Joseph Diongre

A steamboat-shaped building rising up beside Ixelles’ most famous square and looking out over its pond, the Flagey is a fine example of Art Deco craftsmanship. Besides designing its monumental look, Joseph Diongre created studios with world-class acoustics for the former national radio and television institute.

Flagey, Rue du Belvédère 27, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

Flagey's Studio 4, famed for its near perfect acoustics and home to the Brussels Philharmonic | Courtesy of Flagey
Flagey’s Studio 4, famed for its near perfect acoustics and home to the Brussels Philharmonic | Courtesy of Flagey

Koekelberg Basilica by Albert Van Huffel

This mastodon on the Koekelberg hill is the largest Art Deco building in the world and one of the largest basilicas. For decades, it seemed as if the ambitious masterpiece would never be completed, with construction detained by two world wars and a persistent lack of funds. Now Albert Van Huffel’s Art Deco place of worship dominates the west part of the Brussels skyline with its green copper dome.

Koekelberg Basilica, Parvis de la Basilique, 1081 Brussels, Belgium

The fifth largest church in the world also houses the Museum of the Black Sisters and the Museum of Religious Modern Art | © elPadawan/Flickr
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart also houses the Museum of the Black Sisters and the Museum of Religious Modern Art | © elPadawan/Flickr

L’Archiduc by F. Van Ruyskensvelde

The L’Archiduc bar has known many lives as it nears its 80th birthday. From a discrete rendez-vous place for businessmen and their secretaries to jazz temples frequented by the likes of Miles Davis, it’s easy to see why the Art Deco establishment continues to exercise such a gravitational pull. A buzzer and cast-iron door will let you enter an atmospheric setting complete with original wooden benches, rosewood bar, and art gallery, all elegantly combined by F. Van Ruykensvelde.

L’Archiduc, Rue Antoine Dansaert 6, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Jazz temple L'Archiduc has the whole Art Deco thing down to a tee | © Ugo Lemaire, courtesy of L'Archiduc
Jazz temple L’Archiduc has the whole Art Deco thing down to a tee | © Ugo Lemaire, courtesy of L'Archiduc

Neoclassical:

Place Royale by Barnabé Guimard

Rebuilt after a fire in the Neoclassical style that Austrian rule dictated at the time, Brussels’ spacious Royal Square exudes grandeur to the fullest. The symmetrical building blocks that surround it and its central Godfrey of Bouillion statue include the Magritte Museum in the splendidly renovated Altenloh Hotel, the Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg Church, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts.

Place Royale, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

The Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg church, one of the many similar neo-classical building surrounding the Place Royale | © Jean-Pol Lejeune, courtesy of visitbrussels.be
The Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg Church, one of the many similar Neoclassical buildings surrounding the Place Royale | © Jean-Pol Lejeune, courtesy of visitbrussels.be

Gothic:

City Hall

When it comes to Gothic hallmarks, there’s no beating Brussels’ Town Hall and its army of façade statues.

City Hall, Grand Place, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Brussels' Gothic City Hall is naturally a preferred medieval background for folkloric festivals | © visitbrussels.be
Brussels’ Gothic City Hall is naturally a preferred medieval background for folkloric festivals | © visitbrussels.be

St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral

Brabantian Gothic architecture reached its apex with the completion of St Michael and St Gudula’s on top of the Treurenberg hill in the 16th century. The inside of the cathedral – now the setting for royal weddings, funerals, and Sunday carillon concerts – has been kept remarkably sober for a Gothic construction. The eye is free to wander along the magnificent vaulted ceiling and enormous stained-glass windows depicting biblical scenes.

St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, Parvis Sainte-Gudule, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Victor Hugo saw St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral as one of the purest examples of the Gothic style | © L. Viatour, courtesy of visitbrussels.be
Even Victor Hugo saw St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral as one of the purest examples of the Gothic style | © L. Viatour, courtesy of visitbrussels.be

Neo-renaissance:

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer

A 19th-century flâneur’s ultimate dream, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is 200 meters of strolling past luxurious shop displays. One of the first of its kind, the popularity of young architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer’s glazed arcade spoke volumes about the urban experience the modern city dweller longed – and still longs – for. The multi-purpose, Italian-style space incorporates everything from high-end boutiques to restaurants and a cinema theater.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Entrances on Rue de l’Ecuyer and Rue du Marché aux Herbes, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

The Galeries Saint-Hubert, the so called 'umbrella of Brussels', has been delighting flâneurs since 1847 | © Marcel Vanhulst, courtesy of visitbrussels.be
The Galeries Saint-Hubert, the so-called ‘Umbrella of Brussels’, has been delighting flâneurs ever since 1847 | © Marcel Vanhulst/Courtesy of visitbrussels.be